Charron has focus, discipline, passion

Aug. 25, 2004. 01:00 AM

Justice Louise Charron is a criminal law specialist.

It was a dramatic moment at a recent inquiry into the conduct of an Ontario judge. To make the point that his client could not possibly have fondled a court employee through the swaths of her legal robe, defence lawyer Brian Greenspan started to don the complainant's black gown.


But as he put his arm through the sleeve, Greenspan was interrupted by inquiry chairperson Madam Justice Louise Charron, who, seeing what was coming, harkened back to another legal drama involving O.J. Simpson and a glove.


"Make sure it fits," she told him wryly.


"She does have a great sense of humour," Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry said yesterday after Charron, 53, along with Madam Justice Rosalie Abella, 58, her colleague from the Ontario Court of Appeal, were nominated as the two newest members of the Supreme Court of Canada.


It is "rare, maybe even unprecedented" for two judges from the same court to be appointed to the Supreme Court on the same day, said McMurtry, adding he is going to miss both judges "very much."


For Charron, the long-rumoured frontrunner for one of two seats on the nine-member bench, the announcement caps an impressive career of accomplishments, much of it spent in the courtroom as an assistant crown attorney in Ottawa and a judge in Ontario's district and superior courts and its Court of Appeal.


Known for her focus, discipline and complete command of the legal arguments in front of her, Charron is also refreshingly unpretentious, lawyers who have appeared before her say. Since joining the appeal court in 1995, she has weighed in on everything from medical marijuana, declaring a ban unconstitutional, to the long-running battle over expansion at Pearson International Airport, concurring in a 3-0 decision to clip the wings of the City of Mississauga, which was hoping to collect hefty development fees.


"She's a wonderful nomination," says Lawrence Greenspon, an Ottawa defence lawyer who has witnessed Charron in action for 25 years. "She is very intelligent, works very hard and is exceptionally bold."


Greenspon recalls a sexual assault case in which Charron refused to allow testimony from a prosecution expert, who had previously given evidence in many other cases, on the grounds her opinion was not rooted in science.


In a similar move last year, Charron ordered a new trial for Rohan Ranger, one of two men convicted in the slayings of teenage track stars Marsha and Tamara Ottey. Her decision included scathing criticism of the use of a so-called "criminal profiler," whose "expert" opinion about the likely killer amounted to "no more than educated guesses."


While her appointment to the country's highest bench surprised no one yesterday, Charron herself told law graduates at a ceremony at Roy Thomson Hall last month that if someone asked her, when she was called to the bar in 1977, what she thought she would be doing for the rest of her life, "one thing for sure I would have said" is "the courtroom is not for me."


Most likely, she would have ended up a corporate lawyer, she thought. Surprisingly enough, however, she found "what I loved the most was litigation" and the best place for developing that potential was the courtroom a decision which "still astounds me at times."


"Discovering what will put fire in your belly can sometimes be tricky," said Charron, who was being awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree by the Law Society of Upper Canada.


But the most important ingredient for success is "passion," she said, encouraging the graduates to "take your internal temperature regularly and discover what you've got the hots for."


Charron's passion and courtroom talents emerged early, says her brother-in-law Guy Goulard.


In fact, she had a case in the Ontario Court of Appeal the place she would eventually spend nine years as a judge within just a month or two after she began practising, he said.


The small Ottawa firm Charron was working for had a case heading to the Ontario Court of Appeal.


But when Charron found out the firm had hired a Toronto lawyer to argue the case, she politely confronted the senior lawyer for whom she was working, Paul Lalonde, now an Ottawa judge, and asked, "Why did you get an outside agent?" Goulard recalls.


The firm cancelled the Toronto lawyer and sent Charron, who "won her appeal," he said.


Looking back at it all now, "the funniest thing is" that when Charron showed up at the University of Ottawa law school in 1972, she was actually turned away, her sister Charlotte Goulard recalls.


There was an administrative mix-up (quickly fixed) and it was clear something was wrong because Charron had always been "at the top of the class," says Goulard, who affectionately calls the esteemed jurist "my kid sister."


A former judge, federal commissioner of judicial affairs and now a Federal Court of Canada umpire, Guy Goulard grew up in Sturgeon Falls, a small Northern Ontario pulp and paper town with a large francophone population. He started his career there with a general law practice and when he began dating his future wife, her younger sister, Louise Viviane, was just six.


Charron's first real exposure to law came a few years later, when, as a teenager, she began working at Goulard's office during the summers.


"Now I can brag that I had one of the Supreme Court justices as a summer student," he says proudly.


Charron is the youngest of four children, two boys and two girls. Their father, Lucien, was the manager of the local branch of the Banque Nationale du Canada and the house they grew up in was attached to the bank.


"I remember at Christmas parties all the kids ran around the bank," says Brigitte Charron, a Montreal lawyer and Charron's eldest niece.


Goulard said when Charron told him she was considering going into law and asked for his opinion, he told her bluntly if she wanted to be a lawyer, that's what she should do.


"She could have been a specialist in anything," he said.


Charron married William Blake, a former police officer, on New Year's Eve, 1984.


She has one son, Gabriel, who is attending Harvard University, where is he working towards a doctorate in languages, and two stepsons, Michael and Steven.


With files from Harold Levy